Portland Center Stage (PCS) kicks off their second season in the Armory with a darker, more complex musical than the perennially crowd-pleasing West Side Story, which started off last year's season. Cabaret is set in Germany during the years of Hitler's rise to power, and addresses the complicity of ordinary citizens in allowing the Nazi Party to ascend unchecked.
Clifford Bradshaw (Romain Frugé) is an American writer who has come to Berlin to work on his novel. He shortly winds up in a relationship with Sally Bowles (Storm Large), an ebullient but irresponsible performer at Berlin's hottest cabaret, the Kit Kat Klub.
The question in everybody's mind is: How does Storm Large handle the role of Sally Bowles? She does just fine, shining particularly and unsurprisingly in the cabaret scenes—nobody informs skankiness with intelligence like Storm does.
Wade McCollum stands out here as well; he's fiercely, creepily compelling in his role as the sexually ambidextrous emcee. Much of the rest of the acting, though, has the unmistakable flatness of professional actors just doing their jobs. Frugé is particularly miscast (or misdirected) as Cliff, rendering his character two-dimensional, too earnest, and dull.
The show is technically superb, with moody, diffuse lighting and a rotating set based on the design of a turntable.
Maybe it's willfully naïve to call any aspect of a musical "heavy handed," but moments of Cabaret are so dumb that they border on offensive. The breakdown scene of the "Finale," in which the decadence of the Kit Kat Klub tips finally into decay, brings to mind less the death throes of a creative and licentious subculture, than it does the zombie dance from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.
This is not to say that Cabaret isn't a crowd pleaser. There's enough spectacle in Cabaret, particularly the musical numbers, to make it fun to watch—but for a show with so much potential relevance to contemporary audiences, and so many resources behind it, it should have been better.